Renault's fastest Megane delivers thrills that are as big as ever in improved form. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Renault continues to retain its place amongst the hot hatchback elite with this improved Megane Renaultsport 265, facelifted to fit in with the rest of the enhanced Megane Coupe line-up. The basics haven't changed, so there's still 265bhp on offer from a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and underpinnings developed by the acclaimed Renaultsport division in Dieppe. Standard and Cup chassis options present buyers with an interesting choice.
We British love our hot hatchbacks. While other European nations are left cold by the prospect of a compact family car that could make a Ferrari look silly on a race circuit and reach licence confiscation territory a matter of seconds after idling at the traffic lights, UK buyers go crazy for anything with the right mix of letters like G, T, R, V and S in its title. Renault has capitalised on this fascination better that almost any other manufacturer in recent years, its Dieppe factory churning out a whole series of Renaultsport models which have hopped across the Channel to beguile the UK's enthusiasts. The Megane Renaultsport 265 is the latest in that line, a car we look at here in its latest mildly facelifted form. This car was derived from the original Megane Renaultsport 250 model, using that car as a base but adding a little extra power (250bhp went up to 265bhp) and an increase in turbo boost.
Not much has changed here. It's still brilliant. As with previous generation Renaultsport Megane models, this Renaultsport 265 variant is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine. This unit generates 250bhp at 5,500rpm and 340Nm at 3,000rpm. That's unless you switch to 'Sport' mode via the 'ESC' button on the dash. This boosts the Megane up to 265hp/360Nm of torque for the ultimate Renaultsport experience. And performance statistics? Well, you'll be dispatching 0-62mph in six seconds exactly, with a top speed of 158 mph. In everyday driving, its 360Nm is usefully available across a broad rev band between 3,000 and 5,000rpm. And its impressive power-to-weight ratio is also a hefty 191hp per tonne. As before, buyers can opt for a stripped-out stiffer 'Cup' version with tauter springs, dampers and anti-roll bar plus grooved brake discs. Whether you choose that or not (and we'd advise you try this car with and without it before deciding), remaining Renaultsport tech spec items include a mechanical limited slip differential, Brembo brakes, plus the innovative PerfoHub independent steering axis front suspension set-up, which virtually eliminates torque steer.
Design and Build
The major difference with this revised Megane Renaultsport 265 is its smarter front end which includes sleeker headlights, a redesigned front grille and an enlarged Renault badge. Otherwise, the recipe is pretty much as before. So we're looking at a car based on the standard Megane Coupe model, inheriting its curving roofline and purposeful stance. The Renaultsport 265 then builds on these basics with its lowered suspension, side sills and accentuated wheel arches stuffed with 18" alloys. The nose has a ground hugging bumper with a suitably vast air-intake but it's probably the rear that shows this Renaultsport Megane in its most dramatic light. Here the curving lines of the side windows and rear screen merge together and a massive central exhaust pipe emerges from the diffuser cut into the bumper. The effect is definitely more Coupe than hot hatchback. Interior design and build are increasingly being recognised as Renault strong points and once again, the Megane Renaultsport 265 builds upon the solid foundations of the standard models. Sports seats and an optimally shaped Renaultsport steering wheel complete with thumb grips provide the main connections between car and driver. There are also aluminium pedals and a rev-counter with a gearshift indicator to prompt when the next gear is needed. The headrests, dashboard and rev-counter all carry the Renaultsport logo, just in case you forget.
Market and Model
The core decision that all Megane Renaultsport 265 buyers must take is whether to go for the standard Sports chassis or the firmer, more focused Cup set-up - which costs another £1,350 on top of the base pricetag of just under £24,000. Ultimately it'll be a matter of taste depending on how eager the individual customer is to extract the most from the car's engine and handling package. A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard and so does ESP stability control which can be completely disabled at the touch of a button should owners feel like exploring the car's limits of grip. As for options, well there are of course plenty. Take the Renaultsport 'Red Design Pack' which offers a more aggressive look, with red striping on the front blade, rear diffuser and side protection mouldings. There's also a clever safety set-up - the so-called 'Visio System by Renault'. Assuming the driver has unintentionally lost concentration, possibly through fatigue, this system features a lane departure warning giving an audible and visual warning if he or she unintentionally crosses white lines in the road without indicating. Also included in the package is gadgetry that will dip your headlamps for you at night.
Cost of Ownership
Light weight is the friend of fuel economy and despite its hardcore remit, this Megane is actually more fuel efficient than you might expect. The car can return 34.4mpg on the combined cycle and will emit 190g/km CO2 which will make it reasonably affordable to run.
Renaultsport may be a division of the Renault group, but the cars it produces are so different - and so much more rewarding - than their standard counterparts that they could be from another maker entirely. Which is refreshing in an age where so many brands' idea of creating a hot hatch is to plumb-in a bigger engine, bolt-on a bodykit and jack-up the price. Bottom line with this improved Megane is that for the price of a hot hatch, you get a super shopping rocket, unafraid of the fastest GTi's out there, even if they do cost up to £8,000 more. Plus all of those cars are essentially compromises between track-ready handling and roadgoing usability: with its 'Sport' and 'Cup' model options, this RS265 doesn't have to be. Either way, it's brilliant fun - and that's what a car like this really should be all about.